You’ve got to admire the National Football League’s chutzpah as it begins charging for football coverage that used to be free.
With its new NFL+ streaming service, you can watch all in-market and nationally televised football games for $5 per month, but only with a phone or tablet. You can’t access live NFL games on your TV, not even with workarounds such as Chromecast, AirPlay mirroring, or an HDMI adapter.
From the 2018 season through last year, the NFL partnered with Verizon to offer this exact same service at no charge. Now that their partnership is over, the league is hoping you’ll pay up, even if you can’t watch on your TV.
I’m imploring you not to do it. Instead of rewarding the league’s greed with yet another subscription, consider the ways you can get nearly all the same on-the-go NFL coverage at no extra cost.
NFL games via cable or satellite authentication
As a reminder, if you’re paying for local channels and ESPN as part of a cable, satellite, or streaming TV package, you won’t need NFL+ to watch live games on your phone.
YouTube TV subscribers, for instance, can watch NFL games by tuning to the appropriate channel in the YouTube TV app. Same goes if you’re subscribed to Hulu + Live TV, FuboTV, or DirecTV Stream.
Cable and satellite TV customers, meanwhile, should be able to sign into individual network TV apps to watch the games. If you get CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and ABC as part of your pay TV package, you can sign into those respective apps for live access to the games on any device, including your phone.
Keep this in mind when you open the NFL app during the season, as you’re sure to be bombarded with NFL+ ads promising access to live games. You already have that access as part of your pay TV subscription; don’t get duped into paying for the same content twice.
Over-the-air streaming for NFL games
The NFL’s new subscription scheme is all the more irksome because it’s charging for the games you can already get for free with an antenna.
What if you want to watch on your phone or tablet instead? That’s where an over-the-air DVR comes in.
Jared Newman / Foundry
With Nuvyyo’s Tablo DVR, Dish’s AirTV tuner, Amazon’s Fire TV Recast, or a roll-your-own DVR setup with Plex or Channels, you can stream local broadcasts to a wide range of devices, including phones, tablets, and streaming players. This will allow you to watch live NFL games from anywhere, both inside and outside the home.
While an over-the-air DVR setup will cost more up-front than an NFL+ subscription, it can pay off in the long run by letting you watch and record all kinds of broadcast content. You can even share antenna access with a friend or two if you’re feeling generous. For more details on over-the-air DVRs with out-of-home streaming features, check out my in-depth guide.
Other streaming NFL options
Even in lieu of an antenna or pay TV package, you’ll still be able to stream plenty of games without an NFL+ subscription:
Paramount+ provides live access to NFL games on CBS. While this normally costs $5 per month, those in the know can usually get the service for free.
Amazon Prime will carry all Thursday Night Football games this season at no extra cost for subscribers.
Between those three sources, you’ll have streaming access to a majority of live NFL games, and unlike with NFL+, you won’t be limited to watching on a phone or tablet.
What’s NFL+ for?
For a small number of diehard NFL fans, NFL+ may still be worth considering. In addition to live regular season and postseason games on mobile, the base $5-per-month service also includes out-of-market postseason games, live gameday audio, and on-demand videos from the NFL library.
Meanwhile, the NFL+ Premium tier includes full game replays, condensed game recaps, and coaches film for $10 per month or $80 per year. This is essentially a rebranding of the old NFL Game Pass service, but with some additional features and a $20 discount for annual subscribers.
If your NFL fandom is such that those extra features are worth paying for, don’t let me discourage you. But if you’re just trying to watch live football games on your phone, there are plenty of ways to do it without an NFL+ subscription—some of which you may be paying for already.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.